In his first two seasons in the NFL, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has been part of a committee approach in the backfield. Mathews split carries with Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles as a rookie and, after Sproles departed in free agency, with just Tolbert in 2011. Now that Tolbert has followed Sproles' free-agent path to the NFC South, Mathews is preparing to carry a bigger workload in 2012, Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego reports.
Mathews had 222 carries for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns last season, adding 50 receptions for 455 yards out of the backfield. Impressive statistics for a player who logged less than 50 percent of his team's offensive snaps on the season. Tolbert played in nearly 45 percent of the snaps and had 175 touches, and his departure creates a potential production gap that Mathews will have an opportunity to fill. Head coach Norv Turner thinks Mathews ready and, according to Gehlken, suggested that Mathews has the potential to lead the league in rushing.
"I personally think he's ready to take that next step," Turner said. "That means, to me, the production goes way up, and he's more of the guy that is on the field most of the time. I think he's grown a lot in terms of understanding his responsibility when the ball is in his hand."
To be able to earn those additional carries, Mathews must be in shape. Following last year's lockout, Mathews infamously failed his conditioning test when he reported to training camp, a situation he's working to avoid a repeat of this offseason. Mathews has hit the weight room so hard this offseason, fullback Jacob Hester has compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"You just know you're letting guys down," Mathews said. "Guys are looking at you and saying, 'Come on.' It's hard, man. You got to live with yourself the next couple weeks or days just thinking about it. 'They did it. Why couldn't I?'...I didn't have the offseason workout like I've had this year. I really didn't know what to expect. This year, it's going to be a lot different."